I have a light pine dining table. After we got married, we left an orchid from the wedding on the table while we went on honeymoon, giving it a bit of water before we went. Didn't realise the pot wasn't water-tight! The water leaked out onto the table and has created quite widespread water damage which obviously wasn't dealt with early.... Can anyone suggest how to get it back to a lovely even finish? Haven't tried any stains yet as wanted to get advice before I tried anything.

2 Answers 2


Some background, there are two types of wood water stains. White rings and black marks. White rings form when the water has only made it into the finish, this is the "best" kind of stain to have. Black marks occur when the water has penetrated into the wood itself. This is slightly harder to fix and will ultimately require either sanding or covering it with a richer, darker stain, although sanding is the only sure-fire method. There are some options that involve staining or not, I'll start with the least invasive.

White ring removal

  • Place a dry, clean white lint free shirt or bed sheet over the water stain and rub with an iron at medium setting for a few seconds, then lift the cloth and repeat until the stain is gone. You want to be rather brief in the application of the iron as not to further damage the table. You can use a hair drier too. This works very well on antiques with delicate finishes that you can't replace.

  • Apply lemon oil to fine steel wool, make sure it's fine, and gently buff the rings out.

Black mark removal

  • Stain the wood with a suitable, darker stain. This is a judgement call, if the black mark is very pronounced or covers a large area you are better off sanding. You can test this out because if this doesn't work, you are sanding anyway.

  • Sand the table down to the wood and begin bleaching. Use a brush and apply bleach to the black marks as best you can, let it sit for a few hours and reapply until the stain is gone. If normal bleach doesn't work get some commercial wood bleach. Follow the instructions but you should have two bottles as part of a kit. After application it should start bubbling. Before finishing and project and restaining, you MUST apply a mixture of 2 parts water and 1 part vinegar to the area you bleached to neutralize the bleach, then rinse with normal H20. This is to ensure a good surface to re-stain.


The secret to removing a fresh water stain is to use alcohol. Alcohol will attract water, bind to it, then evaporate. Use the purest ethanol you can find.

I will tell you a funny story. A refinisher is called to a house to remove a water ring and there are two cherry end tables, one of which has the ring. The guy tells the lady it will take an hour or two, so she goes off somewhere. The refinisher then removes the ring using alcohol which takes him about 5 minutes. While he and his assistant are sitting there relaxing, he says to his ward, "I will teach you something about human nature." They then switch the two end tables which are identical. The lady comes back and examines his work (even though she is looking at the wrong end table). She says, "I can still see a little bit of the ring, but most of it seems to be gone, thanks very much." The apprentice refinisher learned something important that day.

  • I know! I know! The apprentice learned he could charge 2h of work for something that takes 5min, right!?! Commented Jan 23, 2015 at 2:40

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